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Joshua Moore emerging as big-play threat for Longhorns

Sam Ehlinger has spread the wealth early on, but Joshua Moore is beginning to separate himself as a game-changer for the Longhorns.

NCAA Football: Texas El Paso at Texas Austin American-Statesman-USA TODAY NETWORK via Imagn Content Services, LLC

Sam Ehlinger has taken a spread-the-wealth approach to begin the season as he acclimates to a largely inexperienced cast of pass-catchers. This effort has led to nine Longhorns hauling in passes from Texas’ senior signal caller in each of the first two games, with five Longhorns having at least four receptions to their name early on.

Of that bunch, redshirt sophomore receiver Joshua Moore is beginning to separate himself as a bit of a security blanket for Ehlinger, and certainly as a big-play threat.

Though the quality of opponent warranted evaluating that performance with a grain of salt, Moore’s six-catch, 127-yard outing against UTEP, which began with a 78-yard catch and run touchdown on the first play from scrimmage, may have served as a significant early building block. Following Moore’s initial explosion for a touchdown, each of his next five receptions moved the chains, including four catches of at least 11 yards and a short conversion on third down.

As well as he could during what amounted to just a half of football before backups enjoyed second-half playing time against UTEP, Moore provided Ehlinger with some early evidence that getting the ball into his hands largely ends well for the Longhorns.

That certainly needed to remain true two weeks later against Texas Tech, and it did.

On the first third down Texas faced in Lubbock — a 3rd and 5 — Ehlinger looked to Moore, who created space on a short slant to pick up 11 yards. The next time the two connected, Moore skied over a Red Raider defender to snag one of the highlight scores of the weekend, providing further evidence of Ehlinger’s growing trust in Moore to make plays.

As the Texas offense stalled throughout the majority of the second half, a late third quarter heave to Moore on 3rd and 21 fell incomplete as Moore took a hard fall to the turf, temporarily sending him to the locker room. But he returned to the field in the fourth, and of course, his presence proved to be a huge difference in Texas’ late offensive surge.

With Texas trailing by eight, 56-48, with just 47 ticks remaining, Moore found a hole in the middle of TTU’s zone and Ehlinger found Moore for the 18-yard touchdown strike, setting up the game-tying two-point conversion.

Moments later on the first possession of overtime, Ehlinger and Moore connected for more of the same, only this time around, the 12-yard touchdown connection on yet another slant route proved to be the one that won Texas the game.

“I got news that we were down and I just instantly new that there’s no way that I would live with myself being in here hurt without going out there and helping my team win this game,” Moore said, per 247Sports Jeff Howe. “I’m just glad that I was able to contribute to bringing home the W.”

Now the first Longhorn to haul in three touchdown receptions in a single game since Jaxson Shipley in 2012, Moore has wasted no time emerging as a big-play threat and key target for Ehlinger and this Texas offense. Moore’s 14 targets through two games are the most of any Longhorn early on, as is his 11 receptions. With those opportunities, Moore has produced a Big 12-best 200 yards and four touchdowns, which ranks second nationally.

First-year offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich has certainly played his part in this emergence, scheming plays to benefit Moore such as utilizing him as the single receiver to the field while loading the boundary with trips and letting Moore display his pure speed and burst off the line of scrimmage to quickly create space on slant routes. That’s become an early recipe for success for Texas, which also means Texas has put that preference on film, so it will be interesting to see how the Horns adjust if teams begin to use more inside leverage on Moore in those situations.

But that’s a good problem for Texas to have.

If teams to begin to scheme to reduce Moore’s impact, that will only open opportunities for the other eight Longhorns who have caught a pass from Ehlinger this season — a list that notably excludes Jake Smith (hamstring). And if they don’t, well, it’s probably safe to expect more of the game-changing plays we’ve seen from Moore early on.